1981 NCAA Div. III champions
A steady rebuilding effort has the Central College women’s cross country program on the cusp of a breakthrough season in 2012.
After a historic performance in the 2009 campaign, the Dutch placed 19th at the NCAA championships in their first appearance since 1981, Central graduated five of its seven varsity runners and relied on underclassmen the following year. But strong performances from the next wave of Central harriers in 2011 saw a five-place improvement in the NCAA Central Regional standings. However, an untimely injury to top-runner Mel McDermott torpedoed Central’s chances at the Iowa Conference championships. Respective finishes of 12th individually and fifth place as a team are the baseline for improvement in the upcoming season.
And coach Joe Dunham thinks the pieces are in place.
“We’ve laid the foundation over the past couple years with some good young talent,” said Dunham. “And with the people we have coming back, there is a good mix of youth and experience on this squad.”
The Dutch only lose one letterwinner to graduation in team co-captain and four-year letterwinner Melanie Louis. But 11 letterwinners return, including former NCAA qualifier McDermott. She will look to regain her status as a top contender for a national berth after her 2011 season was derailed by injury.
“Mel has shown that she can run with the best athletes in the region,” said Dunham. “She is ready for a big senior year.”
Along with McDermott, senior Jenna Broghamer will share captain’s duties.
“I think the biggest assets our captains have is the familiarity of being on a good team,” said Dunham. “They know how to win and they are going to do a great job leading our program.”
One ingredient this year’s squad will enjoy is experience. Of the 11 returning letterwinners, six saw regular varsity action last year. Juniors Shelby Mendoza and Emma Nelson will challenge for a top spot, while sophomore Alyssa Eaves, senior Amanda Melcher and sophomore Mallory Welk should be in a position to contribute.
“Several of our varsity runners last year weren’t highly recruited in high school,” said Dunham. “But they’ve put in the work and really developed. We’re looking forward to seeing what they can do this year.”
Not every spot is safe, however. The Dutch recruiting efforts have produced several talented freshmen that could contribute immediately including Molly Bramble of Waukee, Gabi Wilson of Urbandale and Elin Phipps of Boone. And sophomore Sarah Mueller of Urbandale will join the squad after a successful freshman track season.
“These women are passionate about running,” said Dunham. “That is key. I have confidence they will make some big contributions to our squad.”
The conference landscape will again by headlined by Wartburg and Luther. But after that, Dunham says, anything is possible.
“Obviously we want to finish as high as possible,” said Dunham. “It’s always hard to predict where that will be, but our expectations will be high.”